FireSmart BC encourages home assessments to mitigate dangers posed by wildfire embers

Beware of the embers

Gone are the days where fire concerns are only magnified for anyone with a forest for a backyard.

Wes Brassard, a FireSmart Coordinator with Vernon Fire Rescue Services, says residents need to move away from the mentality that ‘I don't back into the bush, so I’m ok.’

“The number of embers we are seeing coming from a far distance doesn’t mean our threat is right at our back door all the time, it’s our neighbouring properties and our neighbouring jurisdictions," Brassard said.

Last summer’s wildfire activity spread from West Kelowna to areas on the opposite side of Okanagan Lake. In the summer of 2022, the White Rock Lake blaze similarly jumped an entire body of water, igniting new fires on the east side of Okanagan Lake.

Even if their backyard is bare of trees and bushes, homeowners are being encouraged to book a FireSmart BC assessment of their property or use the online tool to do their own research.

Brassard said he'd like to see home owners in Vernon take a closer look at their property’s own vulnerability against an unpredictable fire season.

“It’s not always that flame front that we’re worried about, [but] the millions of embers that come and land, and that’s what's surprising as to how that will transfer into the home or to the home.”

Experts are making it easier for residents to mitigate potential damage from wildland fires and their unpredictable embers.

FireSmart assessors start with a visual scan of the home itself. They look to the roof. Is it clean, or is there debris that could catch fire? What is the roof made of?

Many homeowners are unaware their housing materials, though appealing to the eye, could contribute to a higher fire hazard. Brassard points out vinyl siding, which is a petroleum product, is far more flammable than a stucco, cement board or a hardiplank exterior.

He says even a log cabin, with its dense logs, stands a better chance of holding up against flames.

Once the exterior of the home is examined, the FireSmart assessment moves out from the home to the surrounding property. Any cedars are red flagged.

“If you look inside of a cedar, they are really dead and they drop a lot of dead material below, so one ember in them can really ignite them really fast,” says Brassard.

He noted many homeowners have cedar-lined walkways and driveways that will fuel a fire's intensity and lead it right to a house.

The city is hoping residents will take advantage of the current tree chipping program and upcoming spring leaf pick-up during their own fire smarting efforts.

Highly flammable patio cushions are also often overlooked when it comes to yard hazards during fire activity and it’s recommended they stay inside when residents aren’t home.

The FireSmart BC home assessment program is strictly for education purposes, and Brassard says homeowners will never be forced to comply. Instead, assessment results could be used to eliminate immediate dangers and as a budgeting tool for future fire mitigation projects.

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